I can still recall my first flight on an airplane. Until I was 12 years old every long trips meant long hours in the back seat of the car, much of the time protesting my lot in life and saying how car sick I was. No sympathy from anyone, with an older sister and an older brother to contend with, yelling ‘dibs!’ on the front seat yielded little. Robin, my older sister, was too sweet to get ugly with and my older brother, Dan, would merely shove me out of the way enroute to his rightful position in the pecking order. I was stuck in the back seat with Melanie, my younger sister. It should come as no surprise how exciting the thought of jet airplane travel was to me.
On the final day of August 1970 my mother woke everyone up, fed us our usual ‘family breakfast’ of pancakes and milk, and made sure we were dressed in our Sunday best to go to the airport. In those days, it was only respectful to dress nicely for the honor of being on these big birds. I hated wearing my Sunday dress shoes, nothing good ever came of the exercise. We grew too fast to wear them enough for proper break in, thus, the shoes were always treacherously slippery. I could have easily mimicked James Brown or Michael Jackson style dancing.
We arrived in Seattle from a six hour flight on a wide body jet with all the energy kids have after being given illegal amounts of sugary, caffeinated soda, likely Coke, but I don’t recall the brand anymore. Grandma Jo was perhaps the only person in the world that would be capable of handling us, and in the precision of an army drill sergeant, she barked out orders that kept me in line during the 90 minute drive back to Eatonville, some 50 miles away.
Most kids at the new school had never flown, so besides being ‘new kid’ from the city I was also thought to be from a wealthy family having arrived in high style. I must say, I enjoyed holding court to regale my classmates on the rigors of jet travel. Good thing I milked that for all it was worth, I didn’t darken an airplane again until I was married many years later.
As an adult I discovered why my folks chose long car rides to short flights, gas was a mere 20 cents per gallon and passenger travel by air was still the stuff of special situations. Not even family deaths could justify the cost of flying when two long days in the car would get me my family to the same place at a fraction of the cost.
My second airline event was business travel. At last, travel the way it should always be, at the expense of a large multinational corporation, and free to me! On this occasion I acted like a seasoned veteran, careful to hide my rookie experience in airports. I traveled between Phoenix and Chicago on another jumbo jet. I was to be gone for six weeks and my company would fly me home every two weeks to see my family. By the end of the training I could yawn with the most well traveled aristocrats while waiting in line to board.
Since that time I’ve logged enough miles to earn free flights on many airlines. Airline travel is now cheaper than the drives I used to make between Phoenix and Seattle.
These days I travel on company business to the south. I’d never been to the rural parts of the deep south, my only southern exposure was a trip in 1997 to Orlando with my daughter to fulfill a promise to see Disney World.
I’ve managed brief stays in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, and have passed through Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma. In total I’ve been to seven mills in company towns, all dusty, noisy, and with little storied southern charm. The excitement of travel has been replaced by the uncertainty of finding a well kept bathroom or clean mugs for fresh coffee, or even a local cafe with chairs that are not of the folding type. My travel partner, old salt that he is, has been wise enough to motel in nice places up to 30 miles from the mills. I’m thankful to be far from the dust of freshly cut timber, and the need to wear ear plugs just to walk from one ‘office’ to another. The other day I reveled at eating hot wings in a Texas Hooters!
The redemption of this itinerant lifestyle is in the people I meet, I have yet to happen upon one of foul disposition. All are gracious and personable, living up to the folklore of southern sensibilities, and as I’ve determined all are eminently thankful the mills remain open. I hear talk of little league games and plans of college for their kids, of travel to near by cities like New Orleans, Memphis, and Dallas.
While the thrill is gone for this type of business travel, it all serves to remind me that I have more than I ever imagined in life and certainly more than my neighbors just a few states away.
I think I’ll grab the Comet and 409 and make sure my bathroom sparkles, all while smelling the fresh coffee down the hall.
Thanks for reading this far.